I tried out a new studio tonight because a yogi in Colorado told me his teacher’s style was influenced by Dharma Mittra. The name was familiar to me, and then I remembered why: One of my friends from my children’s certification program is a teacher at Dharma Yoga in New York.
With that connection in mind, and because I am always curious to learn from new teachers (especially from teachers who’ve been practicing for more than fifty years), I looked up a schedule as soon as I got back to Manhattan, and tonight I took a class with the famous man himself.
Sri Dharma Mittra is in his seventies and way better at yoga than me. His class tonight was open level, but hardly for beginners–we started off with some nice oms, then shook out our shoulders and wrists, rolled our necks, and embarked on a brisk series of sun salutations that would have left me in the dust if not for my daily practice.
Next up were some simple twists and stretches that we held until they become complex, and then came a fantastic transition I hope I someday get to teach: We sat into a bouncing chair, ducked into a seated position, and rolled straight back into a shoulder stand. And Sri Dharma didn’t instruct us in the details, either, so if you didn’t already know what to do, good luck. However, the vast majority of the fifty plus people in my class tonight had no trouble following his guidance.
Despite being keenly aware that I was borderline out of my league, I managed to keep up with the sequence pretty well as it went on, and even learned a new pose that does an excellent job of gently stretching an old groin injury. So even though it was hard to understand everything the teacher was saying, I felt confident in his wisdom and more or less able to do as he said.
And then he told us to get into a headstand. A headstand, just like that! And what’s more, everyone did! I haven’t felt so overwhelmed in a long time. I know headstand is a master pose, and I know that technically anyone can do it. But not me, not yet. We were taught them in my training, and I do remember the thrill of (assisted) success, but I haven’t focused on making headstands part of my practice, because to learn, you have to fall, and frankly, I’d rather not.
However, as I looked around the large space, hoping to catch the eye of another befuddled yogi who might be sitting out the pose, all I saw were rows and rows of gorgeous headstands, and a handful of people doing their best to get there. So I tried.
And I fell. I did. But I fell in the most exciting of ways–after kicking up and then over into a backbend. Which means, technically, for a nanosecond, I must have been in a headstand! It was amazing, confronting my fear like that, so boldly, so calmly, despite my pounding heart. I simply tried and tried again until my interlocked fingers felt comfortable cradling my head in just the right way, and I was stable, and I could walk my legs in, and gently kick, and go nowhere, and then kick up a little more, and still nothing, and then kick yet again and this time–whoa! oops!–over and into a backbend.
How. Cool. We followed up with some bridges and wheels (I used to fear wheel as well, but I worked through that in teacher training), and then locust with partners, and bow pose, and some kind of twist that resulted in people lifting their legs and torsos onto their arms–I was not one of those people–and then eventually the most welcome savasana ever followed by a closing round of oms.
I left the room shaking, and grateful for it. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so challenged, and I really did discover some things about my breath and body, which is of course the whole point. I even got an internal tattoo–Sri Dharma asked us at one point to envision a flower on the inside of our third eyes, and I instantly saw a white rose, and then he specified a lotus, so the flower shifted into a big water lily, and it stayed there for the rest of class. Every time I reached for focus, the blossom on my forehead gave me something to study, a beacon of clarity and confidence. I know it sounds a little out there, but it really feels like I took the flower with me when I left, like its beauty is still present and enhancing my intuition.
Maybe it is.